Modern medicine has made remarkable advancements in the fight against infectious disease. Rates of diseases caused by single pathogens declined precipitously over the course of the 20th century. At the same time there has been an explosion in chronic disease. We now know that dozens of major chronic diseases are all linked to our microbiome.
The microbiome is a vast ecosystem teeming with different bacteria, fungi, protozoans, and viruses. The type of microbes living in the gut (and the metabolic reactions they drive) significantly impact human physiology, from cognitive function and immune system regulation to the body’s utilization and absorption of nutrients.
Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract is really a tube that runs through us, a universe unto itself, and it is home to the majority of our microbiome. The lining of the GI tract is the interface where the gut microbiome really talks (interacts) with its human host and between 70 to 80 percent of our immune system resides within gut-associated lymphoid tissue.
Because of the metabolic impact of the microbiome, the ability to influence and manipulate it offers a profoundly important strategy when addressing chronic disease.
PREBIOTICS VS PROBIOTICS
It is well researched and widely accepted that probiotic supplementation can improve health across various biological systems. What is not often discussed in probiotic treatments is the fact that probiotic supplementation has relatively transient effects. With probiotic supplementation, people ingest beneficial microbes that travel through the GI tract, do their work, and then leave the body.
Fiber is the indigestible portion of plants and prebiotics are always soluble fiber, but not all soluble fibers are able to be metabolized by gut bacteria. A prebiotic acts as food for the healthy probiotic microflora in the GI tract. It passes through the human GI tract untouched by human enzymes or processes. It is, however, digestible by the helpful microorganisms. They are then able to secrete metabolites that support immune system function, reduce inflammation, and maintain gut integrity. As part of a downstream effect, prebiotics help maintain energy balance, control obesity, support healthy cognitive development and function, and support nutrient bioavailability and uptake in the gut. Well-researched prebiotics include gluco-oligosaccharides (GOS), fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), and partially hydrolyzed guar gum.
WHICH PREBIOTICS TO USE
Different prebiotic molecules come in different lengths – some are very short and can get digested so fast that an uncomfortable amount of gas is formed. Others are very long, and there might not be enough healthy microbes in the person’s GI tract to get a benefit. Finding the right balance at the right time is often a challenge. But there is another, and perhaps better, way.
Synbiotics is an approach to microbiome supplementation that research show has several advantages.
Synbiotics help to reestablish a healthy ecology of microflora within the GI tract by strategically combining probiotics (beneficial strains of microbes) with prebiotics (food for beneficial microbes), which encourages a more profound effect on GI ecology than probiotics or prebiotics alone.
Using synbiotics is like gardeners tending soil: seeding it with worms and mushroom mycelia and fertilizing it with nutrient-dense compost, thus creating a self-regenerative and self-supportive system. With targeted synbiotics, patients can nurture and grow a healthy microbiome within their GI tract.
Synbiotics help improve the survival of probiotics in the upper GI tract, protecting them through the digestive processes and improving the implantation of these healthy probiotics where they flourish within the large intestine. Research has shown that feeding (with prebiotics) and seeding (with probiotics) together results in a more efficient metabolic impact than prebiotics or probiotics alone.
A balanced microflora ecology results in healthy nutrient recycling, which can boost metabolism, calm inflammation, balance hormone and lipid levels, support healthy moods, help nutrient production and absorption, and maintain a healthy intestinal barrier. Altogether, a win/win.
*Most of this information was taken from a paper titled “Clinical Applications of Synbiotics”, written by Leah Linder, ND, a licensed naturopathic doctor, owner of Anü Natural Health, and science and education manager at SFI®, a company that provides prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics under the Klaire Lab’s label.